Lilly wins national award for advancing women in the workplace

When drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. studied its employee makeup four years ago, it discovered an unpleasant fact. While its global workforce was 47 percent female, only 20 percent of senior leaders were women.

That was far too low, Lilly officials concluded. In the United States, women make more than 80 percent of all health care decisions, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Lilly decided it needed to get women in senior ranks to connect with its customers.

“We needed to understand women better so we could help them influence and improve health care,” said Joy Fitzgerald, Lilly’s chief diversity officer.

Lilly instituted a series of programs to recruit, encourage, mentor and support women, from beefing up its mentorship program to enhancing parental leave. Today, nearly half—six of 14—of the members of the Indianapolis-based company’s executive committee are women.

Now, Lilly is being recognized for its work in building a workplace where women can advance. The drugmaker is one of four companies this year to win the Catalyst Award, which recognizes initiatives that address recruitment, development and advancement of women.

The awards were announced Thursday morning by Catalyst, a not-for-profit organization based in New York City that pushes to advance women into leadership roles.

The other three winners this year are Bank of America, Deutsche Post DHL Group and Schneider Electric.

In its announcement, Catalyst lauded Lilly for using “storytelling and experience-sharing” to address biases and barriers against women in the workplace. “The transparent workplace culture has led not only to a strong network of allies and champions, but also measurable results,” Catalyst said.

It's the first time Lilly has won the award, which has been handed out annually since 1987.

Lilly’s overhaul started with an in-depth study in 2015, using an outside firm to survey thousands of employees. The goal was to identify and remove barriers to career growth for women.

The company discovered that many women suffered from what it sometimes called the “imposter syndrome”—or a habit of doubting one’s abilities and accomplishments.

“Women sometimes second-guess themselves,” said Fitzgerald, who wrote about the company’s gender issues for the Harvard Business Review in October. “They thought they must master a core number of skills before they could apply for a (certain) role.”

Lilly set up programs to help encourage women to pursue leadership roles. One was to expand its sponsorship program with other senior leaders who would act as mentors. Another was to create a “men as allies” program, which engaged men to listen, build trust and collaborate more with women.

And this month, Lilly enhanced parental leave, allowing new parents (mothers, fathers, partners, adoptive and foster parents) to take 10 weeks off from work without missing a paycheck. A birth mother can get an additional eight weeks of paid leave for physical recovery for a total of 18 paid weeks.

That’s up from 10 weeks of paid leave under the previous policy. In addition, all new parents can take an additional 10 weeks of unpaid leave.

The company shared its study findings with employees in 2016. Senior women at Lilly today include Christi Shaw, president of Lilly Bio-Medicines; Anne White, president of Lilly Oncology; Johna Norton, senior vice president of global quality; and Leigh Ann Pusey, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications.

“We want to be a company that is a leader in attracting the best talent and the most diverse talent,” Fitzgerald said. “We truly believe when we have a company that’s inclusive of all types of people, from all geographies, walks of life and genders, only then will we bring the innovation we need to have in our organization.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.